Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Look at BSF: Part 2 - Theological Concerns

In my last post titled 'A Look at BSF', I considered the classification of Bible Study Fellowship as a para-church ministry and noted that it does not align with the biblical model.  However, the ministry stance of BSF was the last thing I considered as I decided whether or not to participate in this program.  My main concern was its theological teaching.

BSF presents the gospel from an arminian perspective which states that man is not so depraved that he cannot naturally seek God.  This synergistic view of salvation can be seen in their literature on the assurance of faith and in their handout on sharing the gospel.  Many of the BSF resources include questions such as:  'What is your response to God?' and 'Will you now receive Jesus Christ as your Savior?'  However, the Bible teaches that "According as he [God] hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love...And you he [God] hath quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins," (Eph. 1:4, 2:1).  Therefore, the BSF view of synergistic salvation is unorthodox.

My following analysis of BSF’s doctrinal views is based on the Lesson 1 and 2 notes from their fall 2011 Genesis study.  BSF prides itself on teaching a literal view of the scriptures, but when the Creation story in Genesis 1 was covered, a literal 6-day view of creation was not taught as the most literal biblical view.  Instead, many theories of creation were offered along with multiple definitions of the word 'day'.  I found this very surprising because at the BSF Leaders' Retreat in Dallas in March 2011, the Executive Director of BSF, Susie Rowan, taught on the Book of Revelation and insisted that the correct and most literal view of the end-times was pre-tribulational (dispensational) premillennialism.  I completely disagree with the popular (but unorthodox) teaching, and those of us who did not agree were soundly chastised for our non-literal view of eschatology.  Unlike the current leadership of BSF, I believe that the narrative story in the Book of Genesis is literal and the apocalyptic language in the Book of Revelation is prophetic.

From the Genesis Lesson 1 notes, my first concern was the section on page 5 titled "God -- a living person" (section III.B.4).  In the second paragraph under point 4, the notes state that "God made us know the tenderness of His love for us and His desire for closeness with us by presenting Himself in human form (Genesis 1:27; 2:7)."  The London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 2 paragraph 1, defines God as:
"The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; who subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto;..."
The supporting reference for God as a 'spirit' is John 4:24 and for 'without body' is Deut. 4:15-16.  The Bible does use anthropomorphic language to describe God in language that we can understand, such as Isa. 49:16 -- "graven on the palms of His hands".  However, no one can see God and live (Exod. 33:20).  Therefore, the God walking in the garden was the pre-incarnate Christ, not God (the Father) as implied in the notes.

My second concern was in the Third Day's question #3 which instructed the reader to list 3 facts that you learn from God as a living person from Genesis 1.  These notes were distributed prior to the 2011 Presidential Election, which made the discussion of this question very dangerous.  With famous talk-show hosts and presidential nominees, Mormonism has been gaining acceptance in our culture as a legitimate form of Christianity.  The founder of Mormonism was Joseph Smith, and his view of the nature of his god was quite clear:  "god was once as we are now, and is now an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens" [taken from his King Follett Sermon].  Therefore, Mormons believe that god the father is an exalted, glorified, and perfected man; this view makes Mormonism a false religion, and therefore, a cult of Christianity.  The vague and mis-leading BSF notes seemed to support Smith's view.

Finally, Mormonism also teaches that god eternally existed with elements of a preexisting universe, so I found the statement on page 3 (Section II.D.1.) a little strange:  "Humans are created in the image of God and have a unique relationship both to God and to the universe."  I couldn't find any scriptural support for this statement.  The Creation Mandate establishes man's dominion (or stewardship) of the earth, but it does not establish a relationship between man and the universe.

The biblical doctrine of creation ex nihilo is what fundamentally distinguishes true Christianity from Mormonism, which assumes that the world was formed out of eternally preexisting matter.  Therefore, the inclusion of the 'Different Creation Words' listed on page 5 (Section III.C.3.) was confusing, especially the sentence under #3:  "He also formed the first man from existing materials of the earth."  There's no concluding paragraph to even get a sense of the point the writers were trying to make with this information.  Again, without any clarification, this information seems to support Mormonism.

On a minor note, I also didn't agree with the statement on page 4 (Section III.B.3.) which says, "Humanity is the apex or high point, even the aim, of God's creation (Genesis 1:26-27)."  The aim of God's creation of man is His glory.  From the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

All lesson notes are approved by the BSF Board of Directors, so with no accountability of an overseeing pastor, no guidance of a subscribed confession, and no denominational claim, the biblical teaching is subjective at best and heterodox at worst.

The Teaching Leader of local BSF groups does have some leeway on how things are presented during the lecture.  I am aware that there are some reformed BSF Teaching Leaders who can impact the group as a whole so that the concepts presented align with scripture.  Nevertheless, the wording of BSF's salvation presentation is vague enough that the prescient view of election can be held which teaches that the predestination of man is based on God knowing ahead of time what man will do; therefore, God chooses someone for salvation because God knows that person will choose Him.  This is the view of the local BSF Teaching Leader that I sat under.  Unfortunately, you do not know the doctrinal view of the Teaching Leader upfront, and the leader can change at any time.  With the uncertainty of the biblical presentation of gospel, along with the vague (and at times unbiblical) lesson notes, I became deeply concerned with doctrinal soundness of BSF and convicted that it was not a good use of my time nor an orthodox means to increase my biblical knowledge.